As we are aware, today is Mother’s Day. The observance of this day in the United States has its roots in the life of Ann Marie Reeves Jarvis, a young Appalachian homemaker. In 1868, Jarvis organized mothers to begin the work of reconciliation in post-Civil War America. Jarvis labored under the banner of Mother’s Friendship Day. Jarvis' daughter, Anna Jarvis, continued the work of her mother. Anna Jarvis dedicated her life to establishing Mother's Day to "honor mothers, living and dead." Because of Anna Jarvis’ efforts, the first Mother's Day was observed on May 10, 1908, in a worship service at the Andrews Methodist Church in Grafton, West Virginia. In 1914, a joint resolution in the United States Congress designated the second Sunday in May as Mother's Day. By 1919, commercialization of Mother’s Day became so rampant that Anna Jarvis herself became a major opponent of what the holiday had become. Though the original spirit of honoring the mothers remained the same, what began as a religious service, changed quickly into just one more commercial enterprise.
Too often, events and even beliefs of the church are molded into something else by the world. This is in part why many of the Christian separatist groups such as the original Baptists and Pilgrims of the early 1600’s did not observe Easter or Christmas. Those groups feared such observances would become too commercialized. I wonder if they were right? We must exercise care to ensure worldly beliefs do not become the beliefs of the Christian Church.
The Apostle Paul understood the beliefs of the world could harm the beliefs of the church. Paul wrote that when we reach for the knowledge of the Son of God and become in nature like Jesus, “then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming” (Ephesians 4:14). Therefore, we must use care in our churches on how we spend our time and on what becomes the focus of our energies. In short, what we teach from the pulpit and in our Bible studies are critical because the word of God builds us up in knowledge and maturity; nothing else can do so. The understanding we acquire through the word then fashions our beliefs which should be evident in how we talk to each other and how we relate to people outside the church. So days like Mother’s Day may be overly commercialized outside the church but it can serve as good opportunity for us to expand our awareness of God, His Son, and the Holy Spirit’s work through faithful mothers. So today, I would like to look at motherhood from God’s perspective, and through some examples we have of mothers in the early church, in the hope that we would know better what God intends for us and the peace we can have as together we mature in Christ.
To begin with, we should reflect a moment on the maternal characteristics of God. Though God is most often spoken of in the masculine sense, Scripture does speak to the maternal traits of God. In Deuteronomy 32 verse 18, the Jews were reminded that they have left the presence of God. The writer used language suggestive of God’s motherhood. Scripture says, “You [The Jews] deserted the Rock, who bore you; you forgot the God who gave you birth.” In our Old Testament reading today, Isaiah said the Lord had not forgotten the Jewish people in their time of turmoil. Isaiah wrote of God’s maternal presence when said, “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you!” God is revealing himself through the language of a mother. From the New Testament, we have words from Jesus as he approached Jerusalem on his triumphal entry that, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.” Jesus was describing his maternal desires for Jerusalem using the imagery of a mother hen’s self-sacrificing posture to protect her off-spring. This is a character of a mother acting with unconditional love. From Scripture we see that God reveals himself through the language of maternal love. God honors women when He does so and in doing so, God tells us that women who nurture and love unconditionally honor God. This is in part why God commands that we honor our mothers.
With God’s maternal nature in mind, we now can turn our attention to the nature of faithful mothers in our New Testament reading. We read from the Apostle Paul’s letter to his disciple Timothy. In that letter, Paul spoke of two enormously influential mothers, Lois and Eunice. There were other mothers who play significant roles in the New Testament. There was Mary, mother of Jesus, Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist, as well as the Phoenician mother who begged Jesus to heal her daughter. Other women were mentioned in the New Testament who may have been mothers such as Anna, the woman of the Temple, Mary Magdalene, and Lydia. The inclusion in the New Testament stories of women, in general, and mothers in particular, makes Christianity unique among religious beliefs because most other faith traditions largely ignore women in the propagation of the faith. Moreover, Christianity strongly admonishes men who believe that they are new creations in Christ and must show a different behavior towards woman. For example, Paul said, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25). We may not realize today but Paul’s words would have sounded revolutionary to ancient ears. Many society structures that Paul addressed treated women as property. Women were domestic servants who oversaw the home, bore children, and lived as directed by their husband’s, their property owners. Women in some pagan religions were made to prostitute themselves in the religious temples. Men were free to use property as they wished. Paul walked into that scene and said, “If you follow Christ, love your wives with the same self-sacrificing love Jesus gave the church. Keep her pure, which you cannot do if you are impure in your behavior. Love them like you love yourself.” How revolutionary were Paul’s words then, and how transforming they still are when practiced today.
Yet among these women of the New Testament were two we want to look at: Lois and Eunice; grandmother and mother of Timothy. Why do they matter? What do we learn about the role of mothers through these women? Our New Testament reading today records these words from Paul to Timothy, a young man, a believer, dedicated to sharing the gospel message; “I am reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also” (2 Timothy 1:5). Paul speaks of faith as alive first in Lois, then in Eunice, and now in Timothy. This faith was not passive and secretive. This faith was alive, moving, breathing, and growing.
Lois, the grandmother, in this passage must have heard Paul the good news of the gospel. She learned the good news that God sent Jesus with a new message of hope and salvation. That in carrying out that message, Jesus gave his life to atone for the sin we did, are doing, and will do. Lois learned that through the work of Jesus, she could be reconciled with God and enter His kingdom. To show that Jesus’ words were true, God raised Jesus from the dead and God placed Jesus at his right hand. It is next to God that Jesus continues to intercede for those who love and follow Him. Lois came to faith and was fully alive in her belief in Jesus.
Paul’s words tell us that Lois made three important decisions. First, Lois in coming to the knowledge of the Son of God believed in Jesus as her Savior. This was a life changing event for this grandmother. She had accepted the Holy Spirit’s movement in her life to receive Jesus. Lois was rare. Studies consistently show that people over the age of 30 rarely submit themselves to a faith journey; perhaps as few as 4% of the population will make a faith decision once over 30 years of age. Lois was a grandmother, meaning she was well over 30 years old and yet she was open enough to hear God speak to her and become alive in faith.
After accepting Jesus, Lois had a second decision to make. Lois needed to decide if accepting Jesus as Savior would change her life in noticeable and meaningful ways. Paul said he saw that Lois exhibited sincere and living faith. The Book of James helps illuminate the idea of sincere faith. James wrote, “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead” (James 2:14-17). Faith for it to be evident must be expressed by deeds, actions. Consider again a question often asked in a sermon. “If Christianity became a crime, would there be sufficient evidence to convict you of that crime?” Lois, a grandmother, expressed her faith in Jesus in ways that made her different from her past and different from her neighbors who had not accepted Jesus. Lois would be convicted of being a Christian.
Third, Lois decided to display God’s maternal character. We know Lois was a mother of at least one child, a daughter named Eunice. Lois decided to share the gospel with her daughter. Lois was present and part of her daughter rebirth by the Spirit. We do not know how old Eunice was but she may have been around 30 years old. Studies show that people between the age of 15 and 30 occasionally make a faith decision. Those studies suggest that only 10% of the people in this age group will make a faith decision. Paul told us that Eunice learned from her mother Lois. Eunice heard the gospel and witnessed her mother living in accordance with God’s will. We learn so much by watching. If you are a person of sincere faith, I can assure you that someone is watching you. People want to know if our faith is genuine. They look at our behavior and compare it to our words. That might sound intimidating, but it is a good thing. Jesus said, “Be my witnesses” (Acts 1:8). We are at our best as Jesus’ witness when people can see Jesus in us. Lois’ was a witness to her daughter Eunice and that helped Eunice come to faith in Jesus. If you follow Lois’ example, who is it that you are witnessing to?
In our reading today, Paul credited both Lois, the grandmother and Eunice, the mother of having a great influence on Timothy, a grandson and son. Church tradition holds that Timothy was likely a teenager when he made a faith decision. Studies show that 85% of all faith decisions are made between the age of 5 and 15. You need to let that sink in for a moment. About 85% of those people who will make a lifelong faith commitment will do so before their 16th birthday. If they have not done so by then, it becomes less likely they ever will as each year passes. By the time someone reaches age 30, it will be rare for someone to make a faith commitment.
Timothy, a boy of perhaps 15, saw in his grandmother and mother the progression and transformation in their lives brought about by the Holy Spirit. Lois and Eunice nurtured faith within Timothy guiding him and protecting him much in the same way Jesus desired to do by collecting those of Jerusalem under his wing. The impact of parent and grandparent behavior on the future beliefs of their children cannot be overstated. Lois and Eunice understood that they had given physical life to Timothy and saw that they could help him receive spiritual life with God through Jesus. Lois and Eunice knew Timothy’s physical life would last but a short time while his spiritual life with God would be forever. These mothers wanted their son to have the joy of life and encouraged Timothy in the faith.
Through Lois and Eunice, we have seen that motherhood is a powerful ministry. Mothers bear the pain of childbirth so that life may be given. Jesus bore the pain of the cross so that life may be abundant and eternal. All women who accept Jesus are empowered by their faith to mother others into a second birth. That type of motherhood expresses unconditional love. That type of motherhood gives protection, believes in the truth, lives in faith, shares the Gospel, and leads those under its wings to eternal life. That type of motherhood shows the maternal nature of God. This Mother’s Day, may God bless all the mothers today for the living and sincere faith they show and have shared with us. We would do well in honoring them by sharing the joy of a living faith with others. Amen.